The Folly and Horror of War

Is it not time for the major non-aligned countries of the world to take up the challenge of establishing the mutually acceptable common ground to defuse the underlying causes of war? Where are the voices of reason which helped stop the war in Vietnam?

By Mrinal Roy

Most of us have not experienced war. Some remember the Vietnam war and the rising protests against the war in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States and around the world opposing the United States’ increasing involvement in that war. The protests, which started with peace activists, left intellectuals and students on campuses, gained momentum when the US started as from 1965 to send more and more combat forces into battle and began heavily bombing North Vietnam.

The indiscriminate destruction and suffering caused by the war was epitomized by the game-changing 1972 images of a terrified 9-year-old Vietnamese girl running naked down a road, screaming in pain after she was severely burned by a napalm attack by an airplane on her village. These images shocked the world. Above all it focused attention on the absurdity and horror of wars driven by Cold War rivalries, deep seated mistrust and enmity in so many countries across the world. The last US combat troops left South Vietnam in 1973. The war ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975 when North and South Vietnam were reunited as one country.

No war can be justified. This is particularly true today at a time when the armies have an arsenal of the latest high-tech weaponry, missiles and firepower to cause maximum destruction and casualties. War should therefore not even be considered as a solution of last resort. The only sensible and rational way to resolve any conflict is to talk and make every effort to thrash out a mutually satisfactory agreement. The caucus of nations and all protagonists should help this process instead of blindly taking sides or stoking the conflict.

Intransigence

In the case of Ukraine, no such action was taken to prevent war. The hard line taken did not help. The key question remains: Why did Ukraine not agree to the main Russian demand of remaining a neutral country instead of being bent on joining NATO (an intergovernmental military alliance between 28 European countries and 2 North American countries) whose ‘fundamental goal is to safeguard the Allies’ freedom and security by political and military means’? Why has the mission of NATO not ended with the end of the Cold War in 1989? A commitment of neutrality by Ukraine would have largely defused the conflict.

The upshot of this intransigence is that Ukraine is left high and dry to fight an unequal battle on its own. War and the severe sanctions imposed on Russia have already hiked oil and gas prices, brought new uncertainty to stock markets and will certainly increase transport and energy costs and the price of imports and food. This adds to the socio-economic woes faced by the world as it continues to battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the ground, after more than a week of missile attacks and bombings, targeted areas have been reduced to rubble. People have been forced to leave their homes and war zones to seek refuge in bunkers or in neighbouring countries. More than 650,000 people have gone to neighbouring European Union (EU) countries.

In contrast, students from African and other countries have been manhandled and stopped from catching buses and trains leaving for the border. This discriminatory policy has drawn condemnation from Nigeria and South Africa’s government whose President had supported Ukraine in the war with Russia. Is this how Ukraine is upholding EU values?

Welcome to EU

Nations in the EU are opening their doors to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine whom, according to the Washington Post, some leaders are hailing as culturally and ethnically European, in contrast to the continent’s resistance to asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Africa.

Husbands, fathers and brothers have been separated from their families following Ukraine’s government decision to ban all male citizens aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country and provide them with arms to defend the country. Is it responsible to arm untrained citizens to fight seasoned Russian soldiers and so wantonly put their lives in peril with the risk of becoming a casualty of war and causing immense pain and distress to their families? It is equally harrowing to see two Slavic ‘cousins’ having so much in common and sharing the same religion, similar culture and large periods of common history engaged in a full-blown war.

Communication war

There is in parallel a daily communication blitzkrieg by the main news channels which repeat the same narratives on the war. There is no objective analysis of events to provide an honest assessment of the situation or constructive proposals to end the war. The few independent channels which try to provide an objective view on the narratives moulding public opinion are too few to win this communication war. More than ever before people must be wary of fake news or old footage of past wars and exercise sound judgement and analysis of the storyline on the war to sort the wheat from the chaff.

In order to make an objective assessment of the underlying causes of the conflict, it is worth listening to the speech of the Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister at the UN Council this week which depicts the ground realities and history of events in Donbass in Ukraine. It is only through an independent review and an unbiased assessment of the contents of the speech that we can have an informed and objective take instead of a Manichean view on the dynamics of the war.

A blatant example of a spin-doctored narrative is last week’s official announcement that Ukraine’s President has posthumously honoured 13 soldiers who were killed defending the tiny Black Sea Island of Zmiinyi after reportedly swearing at a Russian ship that ordered them to surrender. This false Ukrainian claim was debunked by Russia’s defence ministry video released this week showing that the captured soldiers were not only alive but scathingly chastising the Ukrainian government.

Unprecedented decisions

The war in Ukraine has led to unprecedented decisions by the US, the EU and other countries in support of Ukraine. The United States and its NATO partners have sent thousands of troops and advanced weaponry to beef up defences while providing billions of dollars worth of military hardware to Kyiv. A whopping Euros 450 million have been pledged by the EU to buy arms. In a major shift from its long-standing policy of banning weapon exports to conflict zones, Germany has pledged to supply 1000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to Ukraine. Similarly, in a major departure from its policy of neutrality and commitment not to send arms to countries in active conflict, Sweden also announced that it would send military equipment, including anti-tank launchers, to Ukraine. The arms manufacturers and suppliers of these lethal weapons are patently having a field day.

Ukraine is the poorest and the second largest country in Europe, after Russia. Apart from poverty, corruption is the biggest problem in Ukraine. It is a shame that such colossal amounts of funds are being mobilized by the US, the EU and their allies to buy armaments to support Ukraine in the war when such a scale of economic help has not been made available to develop, modernize and innovate the Ukrainian industries and economy.

Callous gamble

Despite the astronomical costs, human distress and harrowing suffering, there is no intent to find a common ground to end the war. The callous gamble seems to be to prolong Ukrainian resistance amidst spreading destruction in a patently unequal war to the point where sanctions cause Russian resolve to pursue the war falter. Is Ukraine simply a collateral victim of the geopolitical and power tug of war at play?

Too many countries have kowtowed and blindly endorsed this warped logic. Is it not time for the caucus of nations and the United Nations which has patently failed in its role as a fair arbiter of a rule-based international order to wake up and find a common ground to champion the cause of a lasting peace distanced from parochial geopolitical interests?

Is it not time for the major non-aligned countries of the world to take up the challenge of establishing the mutually acceptable common ground to defuse the underlying causes of war? Where are the voices of reason which helped stop the war in Vietnam?

More than ever before Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) must dictate the way forward, not only to urgently end the war in Ukraine but also to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.


* Published in print edition on 4 March 2022

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